THE BATTLE OF CAMBRAI
No particularly arduous duty was assigned to the Battalion in connection with the operations on the 20th November. To divert the attention of the enemy from other troops who were attacking the Knoll, a few hundred yards on the right, the Battalion was ordered to place a dummy tank and dummy men out in no man's land in front of the vicinity of the Birdcage, and shortly after zero these were put in operation by means of wires. Naturally the Battalion came in for a good deal of the retaliatory fire of the enemy, but few casualties took place. Incidentally the enemy claimed to have repulsed an attack on this front, from which it follows that the dummies had been efficacious.
The Germans had been driven back by the surprise attack of the British, and Cambrai was nearly reached. The fighting died down in a few days, but on the 30th Cavalry General von der Marwitz delivered his counter attack. He selected not the apex of the salient that had been driven into the German line, but the portion of the line to the south of it, which was so weakly held. On the morning of the 30th the Battalion was in support to the 165th Brigade in some dugouts in Lempire.
A warning had been received during the course of the night that an enemy attack was imminent, and the order was given to "stand to" well before dawn. At "stand to" all was perfectly quiet. The expected attack had not developed. The men stood down and a normal day was anticipated. At breakfast time there sounded a heavy barrage a mile or two to the north, and afterwards shells began to fall in the village. Large gas shells were creating a cloud near by, and a rumour came that the Germans had broken through at the Birdcage. The troops had such confidence in the other battalions in the Brigade that the rumour was not believed. Later a message came from Headquarters that the line further north had broken. Lempire must be held at all costs, and the Battalion was ordered to dig a line running east and west on the high ground to the north of the village, so as to command the ground as far as Holt's Bank. This was then in the possession of the Germans, who were within a few hundred yards of Epehy, and if this latter place had fallen the Battalion would have been in great danger of being surrounded. The men dug in under shell fire, and in full view of the enemy, while a large squadron of enemy aeroplanes circled overhead, and turned their machine guns on the men as they were digging. Fortunately few casualties were incurred. In the afternoon one company was sent to form a defensive flank at Priel Bank, and another to reinforce the 6th Liverpool Rifles at Cruciform Post. On the 2nd December the Battalion took over from the 6th Liverpools, and had the task of putting the line from Heythrop Post, Cruciform Post, to Priel Bank in a state of defence. These places were almost isolated during the day, and it was only at great risk that they could be visited. The post at Catelet Copse was almost a bait to the enemy, one of whom walked up to it. Even the Battalion headquarters at F.4. Central were under close rifle fire. In fact there were no troops in front of Headquarters and it can be said that on this occasion the Battalion headquarters were in the front line.
On the 5th December the Battalion was relieved by a battalion from Brigadier General Ramsay's 48th Brigade, and he visited his former command next morning at St. Emilie. Of the officers that had served under him in the 1st Division, only two then remained, and they were pleased to see their former commanding officer once more. That day the Battalion went by motor lorry to billets in Peronne, where four days were spent. A few civilians had returned to this ruined town, and had opened shops at which fish and vegetables could be bought. These civilians were much impressed by the nightly retreat sounded by the bugles and drums which had attained a high pitch of efficiency. A long tedious railway journey on the 10th brought the Battalion to Maroeuil. The night was spent in "Y" hutments, and it then entered General Horne's First Army.
It left Maroeuil on the 12th and marched to Bailleul aux Cornailles, a village it was to visit later in August, 1918. The next day Eps was reached, and on the following day the Battalion arrived at its destination at Lisbourg, where it was to remain until the end of January, which meant a six week's rest.
Here the men were billeted in the peasants' byres, which were in rather a dilapidated condition. The training was chiefly devoted to musketry. The bomb had gone out of fashion, and it was realised that the principal weapon of the infantryman was the rifle. According to the orders of the Divisional Commander each company built a thirty yards' range for itself, and a two hundred yards' range was allotted to the Battalion. Snow fell but that made no difference to the training programme. The men had to lie on the frozen snow to fire the various practices, and bearing in mind that the rifles were very cold to handle, the results attained were excellent.
Christmas was spent here, and the Christmas dinner which took place in the school and a large barn was a great success, and demonstrated the good feeling that existed between the officers and men. A few days afterwards the Battalion was visited by Lieutenant Colonel Luther Watts, O.B.E., V.D., the Town Major of St. Pol, and who had commanded the Battalion prior to the war, and at Dunfermline and Tunbridge Wells. Those of the officers and men who had served under him in England were pleased to see their former commanding officer once more.
While at Lisbourg efforts were made to induce the men to invest in War Saving Certificates. At first they were somewhat reluctant, saying that they did not wish to hand back their pay which they had earned. Lectures on the subject were delivered to them, and when the scheme was fully explained, and they understood the necessity for money in order to carry on the war, they readily responded, and over 1,000 was subscribed by the officers and men, which was the highest figure attained in the Division. This was an achievement of which the Battalion was justly proud, and shows the keenness and interest the men displayed in their Regiment, and the cause for which they were fighting.
In consequence of the reduction of the number of infantry battalions in the organisation of the British division from twelve to nine, the "first ninth" being the junior battalion in the Brigade was split up. A selected party of the officers and men was detailed for the second line Battalion, and they were regarded with envy by the less fortunate. The remainder was split up into drafts for the 1st, 4th, and 12th King's. The day of the break up was a very sad one indeed. To a soldier his regiment is his home, and to be called upon to leave it, to sever his friendships and to lose his comrades of many a tragic day is for him very bitter. It is not untrue to say that as the drafts were leaving and comrades were saying "Goodbye," several of the soldiers, who had braved nearly inconceivable terrors, were almost in tears. As was feared at the time the "Goodbye" in many cases was for ever, as many were killed shortly afterwards by the German offensive in March. The Divisional Commander and several officers from other units came to say "Farewell" to the Battalion they were never to see again. A note of sadness is struck in the following order which was issued:
55th (West Lancashire) Division,
On the departure from the Division of three Battalions, the 1/8th The King's Liverpool Regt. (Liverpool Irish), 1/9th The King's Liverpool Regt., and 1/5th Loyal North Lancashire Regt., I wish to assure all officers, warrant officers, non commissioned officers and men belonging to them, how greatly I, and I am sure, everyone in the Division, regrets their loss. Some, I am glad to say, remain with us.
As to the battalions themselves, I refuse to regard the separation as permanent, and I look forward confidently to the day when they will rejoin their old Division.
They have had their full share in all the hard fighting of the past two years, and have helped to make and maintain the reputation which the Division has gained, a reputation which, I am sure, makes every member of it proud of belonging to it. As for myself, to have commanded it during these years is the highest privilege.
I hope that eventually the Liverpool Irish, the 9th King's, and the 5th Loyal North Lancs. may rejoin our ranks, and that the final blow may be given shoulder to shoulder with them.
Till they come back again I wish them, on the part of the Division and myself, all good fortune and success, and can assure them that we shall watch their career as keenly as if they were still with us.
H. S. JEUDWINE,
Unfortunately the hopes of the Major General were not realised. He never saw this Battalion on parade again.